I was talking with a client the other day, and during the conversation, he said something about wanting to sound more like Donald Trump. I asked him to elaborate and he said, “You know, saying whatever is on your mind with complete confidence, and being viewed as powerful.” I tried not to frown or slump. I knew this day would come.
Let’s face it: Trump’s over-the-top rhetoric on the campaign trail is now the most talked-about feature of the 2016 presidential race. Full disclosure: I cannot wait for the first debate on Thursday. I, too, want to see how brash he’ll be, though I am much more interested to see how the other candidates will respond. But, that doesn’t mean I want to help any of my clients to be more like him. Here’s why:
1. Lack of Accountability. Ethical and respectful speakers are willing to be accountable for what they say, and how they say it. Right now, Donald Trump can get away with saying things like “I have a plan to defeat ISIS, but I’m not going to tell you about it.” He knows no one can force him to explain himself at this point in the race, so he speaks with complete abandon. Who among us can afford to do the same? Very few, is my guess. Audiences expect speakers to be accountable for their words and demeanor.
2. Nattering Nabob of Negativism. Tip of the hat to the late William Saffire for that term. It seems everything Trump says is a criticism of a policy, a decision or a person. In the world of public speaking, nothing is easier to do than finding fault. It’s much, much harder – and requires more head, heart and gut – to be constructive, hopeful, and part of the solution. So far, I’ve counted 15 political leaders whom Trump has commented on (and I’m not even trying), and all of them are “terrible” or “horrible.” For you fitness enthusiasts, this type of speaking is the equivalent of doing 100 crunches by yanking on your head. Any couch potato can do that.
3. All Bluster, No Humility. While it is sometimes fun to watch a bloviator mouth off with reckless abandon, most speakers do so at their own peril. In the real world, speakers must build and maintain credibility if our audience is to listen, consider and possibly act on our recommendations. Humility goes a long way. That is not to say public speakers must be shrinking violets. In fact, that’s one of things I like about Donald Trump – his energy and willingness to speak up. Humility helps speakers create space for their audience to feel included, to soak in the message. My favorite definition of humility is by C.S. Lewis: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
I feel it’s important to end on a positive note since I just criticized Donald Trump for being too negative. And I told this to my client so I wouldn’t burst his bubble: He’s fearless. He steps right up to any microphone. He’ll take a question from any reporter. Presidential politics has become a two-factor game: controlling the message and money. It’s nice to see a candidate not so hell-bent on being perfect.